Monday, May 12, 2014

Cenotaph by the side

Coming into the city from the airport, the traveller would pass this cenotaph, standing in a fenced-off piece of land just where the Kathipara flyover starts climbing. It is easy enough to miss; the whitewash neither new nor too old. The cupola not ornate at all, its urn finial hardly discernible by the traveller, who is more concerned about the traffic all around. Even those citizens of Chennai who notice it might pause for a moment to think about how this structure survived when the statue of Jawaharlal had to be shifted to make way for the flyover's construction.

The patch of land belongs to the army and the cenotaph - that's what it is - is of an army man. From a long time ago. Lt Col Sam shed his mortal coils this day 194 years ago. He was a member of the Madras Artillery; my guess is that he was with them since the day that force was raised. Major Peter James Begbie, in his 1852 history of the Madras Artillery, indicates that (then) Lieutenant Sam was one of the nine officers wounded in the Battle of Argaum (eh, what's that?). Elsewhere, he is credited with having suggested the best manner of transporting ordnance across the Indian rivers. Going by the plaque on the cenotaph, he was not just an officer, but a gentleman - his martial exploits may therefore have been limited.

In recent years, this cenotaph's popularity experienced a bump up thanks to Lt Col Sam's descendent. Though I am not certain how they are related, the writer William Dalrymple acknowledges Lt Col Sam Dalrymple, CB, as an ancestor - actually one of the several Dalrymples who seem to have made their fortunes in the empire!

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